I always wanted to be a doctor
The story of Zuzana Černá proves that if a person with a clear vision, strong will and a support of close people will always manage to meet their goals at the end, although the ways to it may be tangled and full of obstacles.
Text: Vladimíra Storchová
Was it a difficult decision to become a plastic surgeon? Didn’t it mean giving up on children and family?
Fortunately, I didn’t have to think about such things, because I had a child already at a high school.
To tell you exactly, our son was born two weeks after my high-school graduation.
Expectant mother – it’s not a typical thing to see at high school. Did you have any troubles?
Oh, not at all. I think troubles had the fourteen-year old freshman boys when they saw me walking around the hallways during a break. It certainly was not typical thirty years ago. Nobody ever even suggested that I should be expelled from school or anything like that, though. My husband had gone to the same high school (five years before me) and so did his sister, so everybody knew us and supported us. The whole class and also the teachers came to our wedding.
To study medicine is not an easy thing to do, let alone with a child!
It might sound trivial, but I always wanted to be a doctor (my father was one, you see). During the holidays I took up temporary jobs in hospitals, maternity hospitals etc. But when I did the entrance exams for medicine with a three-week old baby, I didn’t take things seriously in any way. And then three weeks later the notice of my acceptance came from the faculty and I burst out crying. All of a sudden I had no idea what to do. Desire to study medicine was still very strong, but my husband had to go to the Army and there was the baby…The woman’s values change radically at that time – the nature wisely set it that way. I talked it over with my father and he told me: “Try it. You got the opportunity, so use it. You can always give it up.” And so I tried.
Really everybody helped, my parents baby-sat, my grandma, my brother. Sometimes I went for a lecture with a pram. I could afford that, because my son – ever since a baby - has been such a smiling sun, satisfied, never crying, never naughty. Such a positive little man. And also thanks to that, I managed to finish the whole six-year program without any break. But I would have never managed without my family.
Did you make your decision to study plastic surgery at the beginning?
Not at all, I went to study the medicine with the idea that I would dedicate myself to midwifery. I consider bringing children to this world to be a beautiful profession. But in the sophomore year I met the associate professor Jan Měšťák. He was our lecturer and won us over with his characteristic kind behavior as well as – and mainly – with his skills. I would say it was him who definitely won me over for the plastic surgery. I was charmed by his subject, not so well known here at the time. In addition it fit well with my aesthetic orientation. I have always loved painting and I even had a small exhibition of my pictures back in Canada.
You received the postgraduate diploma, everything went great for you and then all of a sudden you emigrated. Why?
Because my ex-husband had emigrated to Canada and my son had been missing him terribly.
You left everything behind because your son had been missing his father?!
He was terribly sad, it broke his heart. At the age of twelve a boy might need his dad more than his mum. I still remember – we were sitting on a bench and I drew the worst possible picture of emigration for him. The possibility that I wouldn’t be able to find a job there, not even as a nurse, the fact that we wouldn’t have any money, that we would have to give up many things, that we would only have one for the other, no family, no friends and acquaintances. And he still made the decision to follow his father. He never regretted it and never complained one bit.
We flew. The old way: to Cuba with a stop-over in Montreal, where we got off the plane and applied for asylum, as many other Czechs had done before us. There – after many formalities – they took us to prison and I was thinking: Oh, my God, where have I brought my son to? They had to check up on many things, which was the usual course of action, but I didn’t know that.
Did the worst picture of emigration beginnings start to take shape?
You can be sure of that! I started with a bucket, rag and broom and I studied at nights.
And a place of living?
During the eight years I lived in Canada I moved nine times. In accordance with my work we started on the cheapest addresses. For example we happened to come to a drug ghetto of the black population, with cockroaches everywhere and injections and needles in the hallways. Just dreadful. As I was slowly getting some better job opportunities (baby-sitting, taking care of old people, lab work), our standard of living was getting better, too. In Canada flat offer is no problem, you just have to have enough money. Another determining factor for your address is your social status. It’s a kind of obligation – a university professor could not afford to live in a housing estate as is quite typical here. It would not be appropriate.
How long did the tough period last?
Two years, with a better grasp of the language and taking up various courses I was moving up the ladder of work opportunities until I got back to the university level. Through further studies at two universities I got back to medicine. At first, after two years of studying at the McGill Faculty of Medicine in Montreal, I gained the Master’s Degree, and then – based on winning a competition – I became a member of a doctor’s studies university team concerned with breast cancer. That was already in Vancouver at the University of British Colombia. I was lucky, I happened to join a team of experienced specialists, I was lecturing and working both at a clinic and on my Doctor’s Degree.
End’s well, all’s well?
I believe that every experience makes a person stronger. If you touch the bottom, you start to perceive not only everything around you but also yourself completely differently. And when you come back home afterwards, you are a different person. And those who stayed seem different as well. And of course, you appear so to them. You are a foreigner again, this time in your own country. You go through a culture shock again, you don’t know what happened one, let alone eight years ago.
And your son? Didn’t he lose a part of carefree childhood?
I think that if a child has a strong positive motivation you can load a lot on them and it won’t break them down. And he had it. He didn’t want to lose his dad. It is true that he lived a bit further (5000 km, but in Canada it is seen differently), but my son could go there any time. He flew to see him for Christmas and during holidays they would spent whole months together. Our son had a lot of work and duties, but he learnt to be modest, responsible and hard-working. Today he is a very even-minded, satisfied and successful young man.
You came back and started from scratch again. Was it so even with a place of living?
Yes, I started in a studio and I didn’t even have a coffee cup.
Do you enjoy furnishing?
Yes, very much. I was running around secondhand and antique shops and looking for individual pieces of furniture. I like old things with patina and history and therefore it became a hobby for me as well. I also got and inherited many things from my parents and grandparents and those are the most precious pieces of furniture for me. I also enjoy very much playing with shapes and colors.
What makes a flat to be a home for you?
Every object in my home has a history, I have a personal relationship to it, I know where I bought it or who I got it from. Those pieces are valuable for me regardless their financial value. For example I have a picture of my grandma on my bed-side table and sometimes we have a good old chat together (but that is a different story).
How do Canadians live?
I cannot generalize that, but the culture of living is a somewhat different from here. What might appear to us as kitsch is considered there to be beautiful. Canadians are more practical. They give more space to the technical equipment, e.g. they have a special room for a washing machine and a drier. I was quite surprised not to see many bookshelves in their houses. They do have a bathroom on each floor, sometimes even two, but books are not their priority. Also I did not see there as many paintings and pictures on their walls as we can see in our flats.
But you had an exhibition of paintings there!
That was as a part of humanitarian event. I am not a painter, but it is my hobby. I have always given away my pictures. Now I only paint very little and if I actually get started, I cannot leave an unfinished canvas even if I was to stay up all night. It’s one of my typical characteristics: I want to have everything finished within details. My mum is the same way, she would always have tidied up, everything in order, just a perfectionist. But today, when she comes over to my place, she says: “You are even worse than me.”
But perfectionism is a perfect characteristic for a plastic surgeon!
Certainly, as well as aesthetic feelings and manual skills.
Do you look back at the last eleven years with satisfaction?
Not everything can be accomplished within the first try, but when someone is enduring, they can achieve their goals. I have met excellent colleagues, outstanding doctors and amazing and devoted nurses.
Is plastic surgery in demand in Canada?
The Canadian women are rather conservative in this way, unlike the American ones. Natural process of aging is for most of them normal and matter-of-course.
Do you recommend plastic surgery to anyone?
Definitely not to anyone. On the contrary, I quite often try to dissuade people from having one. Aesthetic surgery helps to remove certain physical disproportions and can help to mitigate manifestations of age, but not everyone is suited for it. Everyone has to get ready for such a procedure. They have to be completely healthy, have enough time for after-operation care and mainly – have realistic expectations. We cannot perform miracles. On the other hand, if something is bothering you… Everybody should be nice to themselves and allow themselves to be spoilt here and there. I know from experience that a woman who goes through plastic surgery is cared for by her whole family and she usually looks at this time as at a very nice period. Additionally the women gain better looks and therefore better feeling about themselves.
Isn’t the fact your son to whom you sacrificed a lot lives on the other side of the ocean painful for you?
I have to stress that I have never felt like I have sacrificed myself to my son. All parents do for their children what they consider to be the best for them and that is no sacrifice, but a part of being a parent. We visit him in Canada every year, spend our holidays together, he comes here and always says he’s coming home. That’s beautiful, isn’t it? Of course I often miss him, but I also have my own parents here, my brother with his family and my friends. This is just my home.
Are you planning Christmas together?
Yes, we are. My son is coming, we will go to my parents and the family will be together. And that’s how it should be. Beautiful, peaceful and cheerful Christmas. We have almost dismissed the whole present thing, we only give each other some thing small for pleasure. The important thing is that we are together.